There’s an old saying attributed to English historian and philosopher Thomas Fuller that goes, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” I’m sure you’ve heard this saying in one way or another. It’s intended to give hope to those who have none and to those who see no end in sight for their suffering.
After this weekend, I think our the Oregon Ducks fan base needs to hear this saying.
I’m not going to rehash the thorough disemboweling of the Webfoots on Saturday afternoon, although I’m pretty sure what the Huskies did to us was in violation of the Geneva Conventions. I’m here to talk about the road ahead, and, while it probably won’t get much worse, it might take more than a year or two before it gets better.
The issues of this program are systemic and have been developing longer than we care to admit. They were disguised by a transcendent player in Marcus Mariota, but the cancer was there nonetheless. It was easy to see for anyone who bothered to look, but we as fans were so wrapped up in success that we overlooked the obvious shortcomings.
The defense has been a mess for years. The last two seasons have been impossible to ignore, but even when Mariota was here, the defense lived and died with the turnover and was rarely asked to make stops in a competitive game. When they were most needed, they usually wilted. Last year, the ineptitude was at its peak, when we ranked No. 116 in total defense out of 127 FBS teams.
That being said, the defense can be fixed, but not overnight. I’m not positive Brady Hoke is a good defensive coordinator, but it’s not entirely fair to make an assessment on his defense just yet. He needs a couple years of recruiting under his belt to find players who fit his system before we break out the pitchforks. Right now, he’s primarily using defenders recruited for Don Pellum’s bend-but-don’t-break 3-4 defense in his attacking 4-3 scheme.
That’s a tough transition to make and explains why true freshmen such as linebacker Troy Dye and safety Brenden Schooler are getting so many reps.
The more disturbing trend is a lack of fight and apparent apathy that seems to have infiltrated the locker room. With Schooler coming out and saying that players “just don’t care” and seem entitled, one has to wonder where the “Win the Day” culture went. Chip Kelly teams weren’t perfect, but they never quit. The same can be said for Mike Bellotti’s Ducks, which experienced much more adversity than Kelly’s ever did.
It’s easy to say that a coaching change would fix this program. But is it actually the right move right now? I am among the few (along with Athletic Director Rob Mullens) that say the time isn’t right to fire Mark Helfrich. There was a wonderful article this week on our site by Brian Libby titled, “Firing Mark Helfrich Is Fool’s Gold,” that does a great job explaining why exactly our little group feels this way.
Don’t get me wrong here, if Helfrich can’t put together some positive momentum after the bye, he will enter next year on a scalding hot seat, and he will have earned every degree. But he will enter next season as Oregon’s head coach, and that’s probably a good thing.
Ultimately, this season is a lost cause only if you look at it in terms of wins and losses. From other perspectives, there is a lot this team can do to salvage the campaign.
This team has shown that it has its bright spots. Despite the loss, true freshman quarterback Justin Herbert played tough against a ferocious defense in his first career start. The offensive line hasn’t been great thus far, but it is starting four redshirt freshmen who will only get better as they mature. Running backs coach Gary Campbell keeps churning out all-American-caliber running backs, and Tony Brooks-James looks to be next in line in just his second year of eligibility.
Dye and Schooler have been good on defense at times, but more importantly, Schooler, in particular, seems to have taken it upon himself to be a vocal presence in a locker room that is completely devoid of them. For a team in desperate need of leadership, it’s encouraging to see a true freshman step up in that regard.
What this team needs to do most is show something it hasn’t shown yet this season: temerity.
It needs to show that the petulance described by Schooler and others is a thing of the past. It needs to go out there and show some pride. This program and its fans (the loyal ones anyway; let the bandwagoners head up I-5 to Seattle) are a historically proud bunch, and the team needs to start playing like the O means something to them. Defend Autzen Stadium. Play hard for all 60 minutes. Walk off that turf knowing that you did all you could for the uniform (whichever one we happen to be wearing that day).
Doing this won’t save the 2016 season. But it will show Oregon fans, the Pac-12 and the rest of the country that while the darkest hour may be upon us, the sun is rising.
Top Photo by Rhianna Gelhart
Disclaimer: Readers: Every writer on FishDuck.com is allowed to express their opinion in their articles. However, articles do not represent the views of the other writers, editors, coaching consultants, management, or the principals of FishDuck.com. Charles Fischer